William Faulkner: Almost a Movie Star

    During his initial flurry of cinematic success, Jean-Luc Godard had ideas in his head.  Ideas for movies he wanted to make.  Tons of them.  During this perpetual intellectual hurricane, he had the thought of putting the greatest living writer on earth in one of his movies.  Who was this writer back in the spring of 1962?  None other than your favorite and mine, the Mississippi Mystic, the Noble Nobelman, the Yoknapatawpha Yahoo himself, Mr. William Cuthbert Faulkner.  

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Movie star good looks. 

    Wow!  He wanted the movie’s starring role for his wife, Anna Karina; here’s a note he wrote some producer back then:

[the film would star] Anna herself, Anna, who is an actress and who arrives in New York.  She goes to see Gene Kelly and she says to him, “I am a French actress, I admire you, can’t you find me some work?”  Finally, it’s the discovery of America by this girl, from within seven or eight great genres of the American cinema.  Then Gene Kelly says, “But no, my little girl, the musical comedy is finished, the great stage at MGM no longer exists.”  Then they go into the street and it becomes a little bit musical.  Then, I don’t know what, she needs money, she steals money, she meets people and it becomes a criminal episode.  I would have wanted, for example, for her to get hired as a maid, or a gardener, or whatever, by Faulkner.   

    Alas, William Faulkner died that summer, before the project ever got anywhere.  But don’t cry for Mississippi Bill.  He did get to have his day in Hollywood, writing some movies for money.  He personally didn’t give a damn about movies and was only there for the paycheck, but he did get to jab a literary stick in Hemingway’s bleary drunken eye when he turned his piece of shit novella To Have and Have Not into a pretty decent movie which starred Humphrey Bogart and his soon-to-be wife Lauren Bacall.  

    So William Faulkner could’ve starred in a Godard movie.  I get giddy just thinking of it.   Would Faulkner be nervous in front of the camera?  Visibly drunk?  An acting revelation?  Who knows what would’ve happened, but it’s fun to think about.  And even though this one never made it out of the bullpen, it’s nice to know that the idea was there.  While an artist will be judged mostly on his completed works, sometimes I think we need to give the “interesting idea” its proper due as well.  Nobody else came up with this, and I guarantee that every producer who came across Godard’s note emphatically said some version of  “Wow! What a _______ idea!”

It’s the End of the World, but it’s the Beginning of the Universe

Akira (1988)

I was thinking the other day about the movies I like and the ones I’d written essays on and I noticed a theme.  I had the thought that maybe I only like movies with beautiful women in them.  Is this true?  No, it can’t be true.  But…maybe it is?  The overwhelming majority of movies do have beautiful actresses in them.  And God bless the movies for granting me the ability to gawk at all manner of beautiful women without fear of the disgusted reproach, pepper spray in eyes, or jealous  husband knifing me in my considerable gut.  Is that the only reason I like the movies?  The women?  This cannot be.  I thought of the manliest movies I like.  Blade Runner?  Yes!  I LOVE Blade Runner.  But, wait…Sean Young plays Rachael, the “more human than human” replicant of my dreams.  Is she my favorite part of the movie?  Yeah, probably.  But I’m on the right track, I know it.  Blade Runner…I’m close…something like Blade Runner…BINGO.  I do know a movie I love without a beautiful woman.  It’s kinda like Blade Runner, except there is no Sean Young.  There are no women at all.  There aren’t even any men.  The movie’s made up of little drawings!  It’s a cartoon!  It’s the 1988 anime classic AKIRA!!!!!

Anime has a reputation for being weird, and I mostly think that’s because it is weird.  I don’t know too much about anime.  I know Hayao Miyazaki is good and generally acceptable fare.  Being into Miyazaki will not get you the nerd status that being into several anime series that are like 900 episodes each will.  It’s normal good movie stuff.  Which is what I like.  There’s an anime movie called Perfect Blue I like too.  But none of the wondrous Miyazaki movies or the dark thriller Perfect Blue stuff will ever come close to being as awesome as Akira.  It’s insanely good, and if you can handle a bit of scary oddness (see picture below) it’s essential viewing.

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“…and if I die before I wake…” Tetsuo’s bad news bear

    Akira was a very critically acclaimed and widely read comic book first.  Katsuiro Otomo wrote and illustrated the book, which was first serialized in 1982.  Then, in 1988, he cowrote and directed the movie version.  That is pretty cool, you don’t usually hear about an artist jumping genres completely like that, or at least not with such a measure of success.

Like Blade Runner, which clearly influenced the visual style of the movie, Akira is set in the year 2019 and tells a futuristic tale in an urban setting.  Instead of the neon, bloated and bleak Los Angeles of Blade Runner we have the neon, bloated and bleak city of Neo Tokyo.  It’s “Neo” because the old Tokyo was blown to hell by a nuclear attack in 1988.  But the similarities between Blade Runner and Akira are mostly superficial: the year, the setting, the futuristic vehicles, the mood.  For one thing, Akira is a way more violent movie. Also the themes are different.  Akira is a story of young people in trouble, a super duper power, friendship, jealousy, corruption, gifted children, the end of mankind, the origins of mankind.  It’s a wild movie.  I know this is a phrase that’s thrown around a lot, but for real, Akira is visually STUNNING.  The motorcycle chase scenes are probably the coolest action sequences of all time.  I love them so much.

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Kaneda living dangerously on his cool motorcycle

Contrary to what DVD covers and posters would have you believe, Akira is not the name of the kid in the red jacket on the motorcycle.  That would be the loveably badass protagonist Kaneda.  Akira is something different.  Since it’s like the big secret of the movie suffice to say that Akira is a very very powerful…thing.  And Akira is a very very powerful movie, too.